Eleven individuals — including at least one woman with suspected links to Al Qaeda — are currently being interrogated in connection with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, according to British media reports, as new questions are being raised about the cargo on the doomed flight.
Britain’s Daily Mail reported that the individuals who are members of a “violent new terror group” aiming to bomb targets in Muslim countries were arrested in Malaysia last week.
The focus on the individuals between the ages of 22 and 55 was prompted by international investigators including those with the FBI. The Mail reported that among the alleged operatives was a young widow, students and “business professionals.”
The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people onboard heading toward Beijing when it disappeared from radar screens about an hour after takeoff with no distress signal conveyed to air traffic controllers.
The huge international search effort which included ships and fighter aircraft focused primarily on the Indian Ocean has not turned up any wreckage of the airplane.
Last week’s reported arrests suggest that terrorism is once again the focus of the investigation.
An unnamed officer with the Counter Terrorism Division of Malaysian Special Branch told the Daily Mail, “The possibility that the plane was diverted by militants is still high on the list and international investigators have asked for a comprehensive report on this new terror group.”
According to the counterterrorism official, some of the suspects admitted to planning “sustained terror campaigns” in Malaysia; however, they denied a connection to the disappearance of the passenger plane.
The Daily Mail further noted that during former Al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial, a British man, Saajid Badat testified in March that he had trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan with Richard Reid to carry out a shoe bomb attack timed for the months following the September 11 attacks on the U.S. That continued plot apparently involved Malaysians.
“I gave one of my shoes to the Malaysians. I think it was to access the cockpit,” he reportedly said.
The Malaysian news site the Star reported Saturday that the cargo on the doomed flight has now gained new focus in the investigation.
While it had been previously reported that the plane was carrying 440 pounds of lithium ion batteries, according to the Star, Malaysia Airlines revealed on Thursday about other contents of the cargo that had previously been withheld.
The Star quoted the airline saying that besides the batteries, items declared as radio accessories and chargers were also being transported by the plane; however, those electronics were not detailed in the cargo manifest. The plane was additionally carrying mangosteens, an exotic fruit.
This post has been updated.